On Saturday morning we made our way just outside of the centre of the Rome to the beginning of Via Appia Antica. Appia Antica is the ancient road which runs through the fields of villa’s and ruins, below which lies various ancient labyrinths of Christian Catacombs
The catacombs are the ancient underground cemeteries, used by the Christian and the Jewish communities, above all at Rome. The Christian catacombs began in the second century as much as a response to overcrowding and shortage of land as they were to satisfy the need for persecuted Christians to bury their dead secretly. The excavating continued until the first half of the fifth. After the persecutions of the Christian ended at the hand of Roman Emperor Constantine, especially in the time of pope Saint Damasus (366 – 384) they became real shrines of the martyrs, centres of devotion and of pilgrimage for Christians from every part of the empire.
The Christian catacombs are also very important for the art history of early Christian art, as they contain the great majority of examples from before about 400 AD, in fresco and sculpture.
The sculpture pictured below is of Saint Cecelia is the patron saint of musicians. Of a noble Roman family, she was martyred in the 3rd c. and entombed where the statue now lies. She was venerated in this crypt for at least five centuries. In 821 her relics were transferred to Trastevere, in the basilica dedicated to her.
The Catacombs of St. Callixtus are the most important and imposing of the about sixty catacombs of Rome. They may be considered as “the cradle of Christianity and the Archives of the primitive Church”, because they illustrate the usage and customs of the early Christians, the “Credo” (the religious beliefs) they professed and the history of martyrdom. The Church had to provide a tomb for each Christian, including the poor and the slaves, so that each brother would have a worthy burial.
We had a charming guide, (All the guides at San Callisto are Priests) from the Philipines with an incredible knowledge of the catacombs and the progression of Christianity in Rome. Once we finally emerged from the catacombs, thankful for the natural light and fresh air, we continued on through the lush fields sprinkled with ruins and spring flowers.
And were soon on our way again on our bikes further down the road. Once referred to as ‘Regina viarum’, the queen of roads, we greatly struggled to bicycle along the bumpy stones and took the side paths wherever possible
until we arrived at the Villa of the Quintilii built by the rich and cultured brothers Sextus Quintilius Maximus and Sextus Quintilus Condianus (consuls in 151 CE). After the brothers were killed be the incumbent emperor Emperor Commodus who now conveniently owned the amazing property and transformed it into the imperial residence. The house remained the property of the emperors for three centuries then during the Middle Ages, served as a basis to build a castle.
The excavations of the eighteenth century revealed several tombs and objects now on display at the Vatican Museums and the Louvre. When we explored the grounds, little remains, but in some areas there are still incredible marble floor patterns and remnants of the extravagant baths and decorations. It would have been a sight to behold in it’s hey day.
We eventually dropped off our bikes and made our way back into Rome’s centre. On our way to the apartment we stopped at a delicatessen and bought some essentials and 1.5l basket of Chianti wine. We served up our delicacies alongside freshly baked bread
We stayed here eating and drinking and drinking some more until the stars were up and 3L of wine had been absorbed. Needless to say we were a bit groggy this morning but it was definitely a worthwhile exercise!